Judicial Council Foresees Expanded Role
OTTAWA, September 30, 2002 – The Canadian Judicial Council has approved changes in its operation designed to make it a “more dynamic and productive body” in the administration of justice in Canada.
At its annual meeting in Calgary September 27, the leaders of Canada’s superior courts approved recommendations of the Council’s Special Committee on Future Directions calling for:
- an expanded role for the Council in developing model policies and best practices for courts, and in providing assistance to federally appointed judges in performing their judicial functions;
- more active and efficient committees, with participation by judges from member courts, as well as lay persons;
- greater leadership from the Council’s Executive Committee, and a renewed push for government approval of increased staff resources for the Council.
Council members also endorsed the creation of an advisory group to the Chairperson of the Council, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, composed of both judges and “informed and experienced members of the public” to serve as an informal and flexible sounding board for her and the Council on matters relating to the administration of justice.
In a separate initiative, the Council also approved revised procedures and by-laws for its role in dealing with complaints about the conduct of federally appointed judges. The revisions distinguish between proceduresfor the informal and remedial stage of reviewing complaints and by-lawsfor the more formal aspects of the complaints process.
The Honourable Richard J. Scott, Chief Justice of Manitoba and Chairperson of the Future Directions Committee, said adequate staff resources and changes in the composition and operation of committees will permit the Council to do more to fulfil its mandate under the Judges Act “to promote efficiency and uniformity, and to improve the quality of judicial service” in superior courts.
The Council noted that expanded committee activity and some changes in operating procedures can be implemented only when additional staff resources are approved. At present, the Council’s executive director oversees a staff of three. The Council is proposing to add three additional staff positions to expand its capacity to do research and provide advisory services.
“Many important issues affecting the courts are receiving little attention from governments, law schools or research bodies,” said Chief Justice Scott. Committees of Council could address models of court governance; use of technology to improve court efficiency; trial and pre-trial practices and procedures; court security; timely delivery of judgments; practices regarding unrepresented litigants; support for chief justices; and the need for adequate funding for the courts.
The Council is made up of the 39 chief justices and associate chief justices, chief judge and associate chief judge, chief justice of the Court Martial Appeal Court and, in the case of the three northern territories, the senior judges, of Canada’s federally appointed courts. The Future Directions Committee recommended that the judges who make up those courts should also be allowed to play a role in the Council’s work by participating in some of its most important committees - including those dealing with the administration of justice, judicial education, judicial independence and public information, as well as certain special committees and sub-committees.
The Committee said these judges can bring a wealth of expertise and experience to issues, relieve some of the burden on Council members and increase the transparency of the Council’s work. The approximately 1,000 federally appointed judges will be advised of these decisions and invited to express interest in serving on committees. Similarly, the Committee recognized the valuable contribution that could be played by experienced and knowledgeable lay persons. They will be invited to play an advisory role to the Council through service on its committees.
Most Council committees now meet only in conjunction with twice-yearly plenary sessions. In future they will be encouraged to meet and report to Council on an on-going basis, using conference calls and video-conferencing when possible. All Council members will receive committee reports and recommendations well in advance of the Council’s meetings to ensure adequate time for consideration and to facilitate discussion in the plenary sessions.
Most committees already report to the Council’s Executive Committee, which will play an enhanced management role in the future by coordinating and directing the committees’ activities, setting their priorities, apportioning their resources and reviewing their work.
The recommendations of the Special Committee on Future Directions that were approved September 27 will be consolidated with those contained in its four earlier reports to the Council and released publicly in the form of a comprehensive report as soon as possible.